Mattress Recycling Council Turns 5

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The nonprofit organization founded by the bedding industry marks major milestones as it continues to raise awareness about mattress recycling and make the process easier and more efficient 

As the Mattress Recycling Council marks its fifth anniversary, it has a lot to celebrate, starting with the fact that it has recycled 6 million mattresses in California, Connecticut and Rhode Island — the three states where it operates mattress recycling programs.

Let’s put that another way: 6 million recycled mattresses equate to more than 214 million pounds of steel, wood, foam and other materials diverted from landfills and used to make other products. 

Or let’s try this: All those recycled mattresses could be laid end to end from California to Connecticut to Rhode Island — and back again, with nearly 1,500 miles to spare.

“In five years, MRC has come a long way in addressing a problem that has vexed the mattress industry for decades: How can we efficiently recycle the thousands of mattresses Americans discard daily? With strong support from the industry, government and other stakeholders, MRC established three statewide programs. We assembled a talented team of industry leaders on our board, professional staff and recyclers. Last year, MRC received 1.5 million units,” says Ryan Trainer, president of MRC and president of the International Sleep Products Association. 

The numbers are impressive, but MRC’s accomplishments go beyond total units collected and recycled.

ACCOMPLISHED The Mattress Recycling Council’s Bye Bye Mattress program has recycled more than 6 million mattresses and box springs in five years. 

“Now that we have moved beyond the startup phase, MRC is taking action to reduce waste and make mattress recycling more efficient and sustainable. We are also working hard to find new markets and uses for mattress materials and to improve how we serve retailers and other stakeholders,” Trainer says. “Along the way, we have developed a proven funding and operational model that other states interested in establishing their own statewide mattress recycling programs can use. I am proud to have been part of MRC since its inception and excited about what its future holds.”

Here we’ll look at more of MRC’s achievements in its first five years — and what is ahead, especially in terms of initiatives that impact retailers.

Breaking it all down

MRC, a nonprofit organization founded by the bedding industry, operates the legislatively mandated statewide recycling programs in California, Connecticut and Rhode Island. 

Big and bulky, mattresses and foundations take up a lot of valuable space if landfilled, but by dismantling them, a majority of their components can be recycled and turned into new consumer and industrial products. 

Point-of-sale fees paid by consumers on each mattress and foundation sold in the three states fund mattress collection, transportation and recycling efforts. Earlier this year, on Jan. 1, 2020, California expanded MRC’s recycling program in that state to include futons, as well as the traditional mattresses and foundations it had been collecting since 2016. Mattresses are collected through a variety of channels, giving retailers, consumers and others convenient, no-cost ways to responsibly dispose of used mattresses. (See listing to the left for a look at the recycling programs, state by state.)

MRC calls its consumer-facing brand Bye Bye Mattress and has developed a unique logo and website to educate consumers about the value of mattress recycling through point-of-sale materials, public service announcements, social media campaigns, digital communications, outreach at events and paid advertising. Many of the materials are available for use by retailers. More information, including an order form for customer education materials, is available in the Resources section of MattressRecyclingCouncil.org. Retailers also can email  info@mattressrecyclingcouncil.org.

Since its launch, more than 1 million visitors have visited ByeByeMattress.com, where consumers can use a locator tool to find the nearest mattress recycling location or event in the three states and learn more about mattress recycling. 

More MRC support for retailers

Like other segments of the mattress industry, the Covid-19 pandemic has put stresses and strains on mattress recycling since the novel coronavirus began to spread across the United States in the spring. But it hasn’t slowed the work of MRC.


COME TOGETHER The Bye Bye Mattress program hosts collection events that provide no-cost, convenient opportunities for residents to discard their used mattresses. 

On the communications front, over the summer, MRC launched a new retailer customer service outreach initiative. 

“The program is designed to provide support, resources and the latest program updates,” says Lori Barnes, MRC manager of industry communications. “We want to make it easy for retailers to communicate with customers about the fee and the benefits of mattress recycling and understand their obligations under the state law. There is a survey they can fill out via email, and then we follow up by phone, review a checklist and answer any questions.” (See story about the fee increase on page 20.)

In its initial outreach effort, MRC is contacting every registered mattress retailer via email and phone, first in Rhode Island and then in Connecticut and California. “Our goal is to connect with every retailer in the program at least once a year,” Barnes says.

MRC also recently launched the redesign of its website, with a fresh look, new features and improved usability, including an updated resource section for retailers.

Moving ahead with major initiatives

MRC continues to evolve as it seeks to grow awareness of the importance of recycling, reduce the number of mattresses going into landfills, make recycling easier for state residents and improve efficiencies throughout the recycling network.

A number of MRC initiatives are ongoing, including those to make recycling easier for mattress retailers. Here’s a quick look at the latest developments in several of these efforts.

HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL Since 2015, MRC has diverted valuable material from landfills through its programs. The components from used mattresses can be remade into new products. Steel springs can become new appliances, and wood from box springs is shredded to become landscaping mulch.

Expanding access for retailers and others: To make recycling more efficient and accessible for retailers, as well as universities, hotels, and other businesses and organizations that collect large numbers of used mattresses, MRC offers the Commercial Volume Program. Connecticut and Rhode Island have operated their commercial efforts since their statewide recycling programs launched and together have more than 400 registered participants. The commercial program in California began in 2019 and now has 48 retailers with 250 storefronts, 21 educational institutions and 50 hotels participating, with continued growth expected, says Justine Fallon, MRC director of operations.

“We’ve seen a really nice trajectory in retailers participating,” she says.  

Requirements and procedures vary slightly from state to state. In California, for instance, businesses need to collect at least 100 units to recycle to participate in the program. Retailers that collect 100 units or more each month can request a permanent storage container and monthly pickup (or more frequent pickup, if needed). Other businesses that have more sporadic need for pickup or that collect smaller numbers of mattresses can arrange for pickup as needed. MRC also has expanded commercial access at solid waste facilities and other locations for businesses that generate smaller numbers of used mattresses. Retailers can check ByeByeMattress.com to find a site near them that accepts commercial volumes. All of these services are provided at no cost to businesses.

Putting a stop to illegal dumping: Illegal dumping of mattresses and other items is problematic, especially in certain parts of California, creating an unsightly, unhygienic mess for residents and diverting mattresses from the recycling stream. 

One of MRC’s goals is to get the word out about the problem. A PSA to discourage illegal dumping has gotten more than 3 million views, Barnes says. 

In 2016, MRC launched its Illegally Dumped Mattress Collection Initiative that now pays nonprofit organizations and others $15 per unit to collect illegally dumped mattresses from alleyways, vacant lots and other sites. The first year, the program had 40 participants and collected nearly 24,000 units. By the end of 2019, it had grown to 66 participants and collected 183,000 units, Fallon says. All told, more than 200,000 mattresses have been picked up to date.

The initiative also provides MRC with valuable data. “We now have ZIP code data and can better see where illegal dumping hot spots are,” Fallon says.

As a next step, MRC plans to fund two or three pilot projects that focus on education/outreach, eradication or collection infrastructure improvements. The projects, which could receive up to $100,000 in funding each, should be completed by the end of 2021, Fallon says.

MRC also is seeking expert guidance regarding illegal dumping. In the past year, it hosted workshops in California to discuss causes of illegal dumping and brainstorm possible solutions with stakeholders. A report on the workshops’ findings has been sent to several U.S. and Canadian experts on the causes of illegal dumping, and they are drafting a white paper (expected this fall) with recommendations for California lawmakers, regulators and other decision-makers, Fallon says. 

Partnering to extend MRC’s reach: Throughout its initiatives and programs, MRC strives to be inclusive and to reach diverse communities, which can be disproportionately affected by illegal dumping and often don’t have access to services, such as regular municipal bulky item pickup. 

For that reason, much of the information Bye Bye Mattress publishes for consumers about mattress recycling, whether it’s a PSA about illegal dumping or a poster about recycling fees, is available in English, Spanish and additional languages. MRC offers translation services free of charge through its registration and reporting portal, MRCReporting.org, and through its customer service department.


WASTE NOT The Mattress Recycling Council has kept 214 million pounds of material out of landfill, such as wood from box springs can be remade into garden mulch.

MRC also teams up with organizations that have connections or existing programs in underserved communities. Partners include the Conservation Corps, Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity and CalEPA’s Environmental Justice Task Force. Such organizations frequently assist with publicity and illegal dumping cleanups or allow their facilities to be used as mattress collection sites, Fallon says. They also co-sponsor mattress collection events, promoting a consumer incentive program that pays residents a nominal amount (between $1 and $3, depending on the state) for dropping off a mattress to be recycled. 

“We’re looking to expand to work with more groups whose missions align really nicely with ours,” Fallon says.

Researching new uses and methods: MRC has a robust research program, investing $1 million a year in a variety of projects to develop new end markets for components, improve transportation networks and collection sites, and identify other industry best practices to make mattress recycling more efficient. 

Another MRC research goal is to find ways to improve the recyclability of mattress components. In 2019, MRC awarded a contract to a design firm to develop a low-cost automated machine to do one of the most difficult mattress dismantling tasks: efficiently separating steel coils from fabric in pocketed coil units. “MRC is now concluding that research project and will be assessing whether a business case exists to develop commercial-scale machines that individual recyclers could afford to purchase and use at their locations,” says Mike O’Donnell, MRC managing director. 

MRC also has entered into a joint research agreement with Covestro, a global manufacturer of polyurethane chemicals used to make mattress foams, to improve mattress recycling. Among other things, this joint effort focuses on creating commercially and environmentally viable solutions for converting post-consumer flexible foam into a wide array of useful products. These solutions could potentially include “closed-loop” flexible foam — used foam that is converted back to its chemical components, which are then used to make new foam.

Making mattress facilities more efficient: As part of a broader focus on environmental sustainability, in 2019 MRC launched the Sleep Products Sustainability Program to help mattress manufacturers reduce waste, saving them money and making their operations more efficient. The program, SP2 for short, offers training and certification at no cost to manufacturers in California that want to improve operations at their production plants, distribution centers, warehouses and/or offices. Pleasant Mattress, based in Fresno, California, completed its training and is working toward certification. Two other mattress facilities are undergoing training, and additional companies are in the pipeline to begin training. MRC may eventually expand the program to California retailers and suppliers and also to companies in other states.

“Through MRC’s accomplishments,” O’Donnell says, “the mattress industry has demonstrated that it is committed not only to end-of-life management of its products, but to fostering a cleaner, greener future.”


The Numbers: A State-by-State Look at Mattress Recycling

CALIFORNIA

Program began2016
Population39.5 million
Mattresses recyledMore than 5 million
Permanent collection sitesMore than 200
Recycling facilities serving the state7
Annual mattress collection eventsMore than 150*
93% of all California residents live within 15 miles of a mattress collection site.

Connecticut

Program started2015
Population3.5 million
Mattress recycled775,000
Permanent collection sites130
Recycling facilities serving the state2
Annual mattress collection events6*
140 Connecticut communities offer direct access to mattress recycling.

Rhode Island

Program started2016
Population1 million
Mattresses recycled334,000
Permanent collection sites37
Recycling facilities serving the state3
Annual mattress collection events3*
37 Rhode Island municipalities offer direct access to mattress recycling through transfer stations, public works yards, collection events and curbside pickup programs.

*In average nonpandemic year


Recycling Fee to Rise in Connecticut 

On Jan. 1, 2021, the recycling fee consumers pay when they purchase a mattress or foundation in Connecticut will increase from $9 a unit to $11.75 a unit. It is the first fee increase since the Connecticut program launched in 2015 and is necessitated by increased labor costs and operational expenses. 

Fees for each unit purchased in the other two states will remain the same: $10.50 in California and $16 in Rhode Island.


California: All Retailers Must Offer to Pick Up Used Mattresses

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2021, all retailers that deliver a new mattress to a consumer in California must offer to pick up a used mattress at no additional cost to the consumer. The requirement applies regardless of how the consumer purchases a mattress (in-store, online, etc.) or how it is delivered (by store-employed delivery team, by contract delivery team, common carrier, etc.).

Since the statewide recycling program began in 2016, retailers that have delivered a mattress to a consumer through a method other than common carrier (such as via a store-employed delivery team) have been required to offer to pick up a used mattress at time of delivery.

AB 187, an amendment to California’s Recovery and Recycling Act (SB 254) that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed in October 2019, expands the retailer take-back requirement so that beginning Jan. 1, 2021, any retailer, including e-tailers, that sells a mattress delivered by common carrier (such as FedEx, UPS or USPS) must offer to arrange to pick up a used mattress from the consumer within 30 days after the new mattress is delivered.

Retailers are not obligated to pick up a used mattress if it is contaminated and poses a risk to personnel, new products or equipment.

The Mattress Recycling Council has been working for more than a year to make sure online mattress sellers are aware of the new requirements, running ads in industry publications, posting articles on its websites and social channels, and doing direct outreach to retailers, among other efforts. Questions? Contact MRC at info@mattressrecyclingcouncil.org or 855-229-1691.


The Recycling Rundown: What’s Happening in Other States

Only three states currently have statewide mattress recycling laws, but others are considering programs or legislation to increase or mandate mattress recycling.

Marie Clarke, vice president of policy and government affairs for the International Sleep Products Association, gave Sleep Savvy a rundown of current mattress recycling proposals in several states. Unsurprisingly, the Covid-19 pandemic has delayed or sidelined some efforts, at least for now, says Clarke, who also is vice president of industry and external affairs for the Mattress Recycling Council, which manages the recycling programs in California, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Maine 

Maine passed a law in 2019 requiring its Department of Environmental Protection to study and issue a report on the feasibility of mattress recycling. The report, issued in late 2019, recommended that the state begin a pilot recycling program, which likely will be in the Lewiston-Auburn area. The mattress industry is working with stakeholders, including Goodwill Northern New England, retailers, waste haulers and others, to create that pilot program. Organizers hope to get a grant from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and expect to launch the pilot effort in spring 2021, Clarke says.

Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has proposed a ban on the disposal of mattresses in landfills as part of its 2030 Solid Waste Master Plan, which lays out the state’s solid waste strategy for the coming decade. Massachusetts expects, at current rates, to run out of landfill capacity in mid-2030, and mattresses ­— as big, bulky items — take up a lot of space. The master plan was open for public comment through Sept. 15. Meanwhile, two companion bills have been introduced (Resolve S. 495 and Resolve H. 765) to study mattress recycling in the state. Clarke does not expect either bill to pass this year.

New York

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a mattress recycling mandate in his budget earlier this year, but the Covid-19 pandemic shifted priorities and the state passed a budget without it, Clarke says. Given the continuing pandemic and the stress it is placing on state budgets, it is uncertain whether New York lawmakers will reconsider mattress recycling this year, Clarke says. 

Oregon

Bills that would mandate statewide mattress recycling have been introduced in Oregon’s legislative assembly the past two years but have not passed, Clarke says. The mattress industry continues to work with Oregon lawmakers and stakeholders to refine legislative proposals, and Clarke expects a bill to be reintroduced in 2021. 

When jurisdictions consider mattress recycling initiatives or mandates, the mattress industry works with lawmakers, regulators, manufacturers, retailers, recyclers, waste haulers and other stakeholders, Clarke says. One mattress industry goal is uniformity in state laws, which makes complying with mandates easier for mattress manufacturers and retailers.

“If we have folks interested in starting a mattress recycling program — usually it starts with a state or local government — then we want to have a conversation,” Clarke says. “What are you currently doing with mattress disposal? What’s working? What isn’t? Is this proposed legislation something that could conceivably pass? How might it need to be improved? We want to hear where the interest in mattress recycling is coming from and whether the effort is feasible.”


Adjusting to New Covid-19 Realities

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted mattress recycling, just as it has other aspects of the mattress industry. 

As the novel coronavirus began to spread across the United States in early spring, the Mattress Recycling Council, which operates statewide recycling programs in California, Connecticut and Rhode Island, quickly created a continuation of operations plan and stepped up communications to keep recyclers, manufacturers, retailers and other stakeholders up to date on changes in the recycling networks. MRC also emphasized to consumers the need to recycle responsibly, despite the upheaval caused by the pandemic. Special Covid-19 pages with updates and resources were added to both MattressRecyclingCouncil.org and MRC’s consumer-facing website ByeByeMattress.com.  

To aid retailers in all three states, MRC waived late fees and penalties on monthly remittances and reporting through June 30, 2020.

In addition, MRC shifted its headquarters staff to work from home, halted travel, and limited visits to recyclers and collection sites.

For their part, recyclers now require workers to don personal protection equipment in their facilities and have implemented social distancing and other practices to keep workers safe. The number of mattresses entering the recycling stream dropped significantly at the start of the pandemic and then shot back up in early summer as residents cleaned out their houses and mattress retailers reopened. By late August, numbers had settled back to nearly normal season levels, recyclers say. 


Resources for Retailers

The Mattress Recycling Council and its consumer-focused Bye Bye Mattress program offer a wealth of information about mattress recycling, as well as useful resources for retailers. Visit them at MattressRecyclingCouncil.org and ByeByeMattress.com. MRC and Bye Bye Mattress also are active on social media. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and share their content with your own followers.


Julie A. Palm is chief wordsmith at Palm Ink LLC in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She has 25 years of experience as a writer and editor for newspapers and magazines and as a publications director. She is a past editor in chief of both Sleep Savvy and BedTimes magazines. She can be reached at japalm623@gmail.com.